A House of Gentlefolk, by Ivan Turgenev

Chapter XXII

He began talking about music, about Lisa, then of music again. He seemed to enunciate his words more slowly when he spoke of Lisa. Lavretsky turned the conversation on his compositions, and half in jest, offered to write him a libretto.

“H’m, a libretto!” replied Lemm; “no, that is not in my line; I have not now the liveliness, the play of the imagination, which is needed for an opera; I have lost too much of my power . . . But if I were still able to do something — I should be content with a song; of course, I should like to have beautiful words . . .”

He ceased speaking, and sat a long while motionless, his eyes lifted to the heavens.

“For instance,” he said at last, “something in this way: ‘Ye stars, ye pure stars!’”

Lavretsky turned his face slightly towards him and began to look at him.

“‘Ye stars, pure stars,’” repeated Lemm . . . “‘You look down upon the righteous and guilty alike . . but only the pure in heart,’— or something of that kind —‘comprehend you’— that is, no —‘love you.’ But I am not a poet. I’m not equal to it! Something for that kind, though, something lofty.”

Lemm pushed his hat on to the back of his head; in the dim twilight of the clear night his face looked paler and younger.

“‘And you too,’” he continued, his voice gradually sinking, “‘ye know who loves, who can love, because, pure ones, ye alone can comfort’ . . . No, that’s not it at all! I am not a poet,” he said, “but something of that sort.”

“I am sorry I am not a poet,” observed Lavretsky.

“Vain dreams!” replied Lemm, and he buried himself in the corner of the carriage. He closed his eyes as though he were disposing himself to sleep.

A few instants passed . . . Lavretsky listened . . . “‘Stars, pure stars, love,’” muttered the old man.

“Love,” Lavretsky repeated to himself. He sank into thought — and his heart grew heavy.

“That is beautiful music you have set to Fridolin, Christopher Fedoritch,” he said aloud, “but what do you suppose, did that Fridolin do, after the Count had presented him to his wife . . . became her lover, eh?”

“You think so,” replied Lemm, “probably because experience,”— he stopped suddenly and turned away in confusion. Lavretsky laughed constrainedly, and also turned away and began gazing at the road.

The stars had begun to grow paler and the sky had turned grey when the carriage drove up to the steps of the little house in Vassilyevskoe. Lavretsky conducted his guest to the room prepared for him, returned to his study and sat down before the window. In the garden a nightingale was singing its last song before dawn, Lavretsky remember that a nightingale had sung in the garden at the Kalitins’; he remembered, too, the soft stir in Lisa’s eyes, as at its first notes, they turned towards the dark window. He began to think of her, and his heart was calm again. “Pure maiden,” he murmured half-aloud: “pure stars,” he added with a smile, and went peacefully to bed.

But Lemm sat a long while on his bed, a music-book on his knees. He felt as though sweet, unheard melody was haunting him; already he was all aglow and astir, already he felt the languor and sweetness of its presence . . but he could not reach it.

“Neither poet nor musician!” he muttered at last . . . And his tired head sank wearily on to the pillows.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01